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How America Really Treats Combat Vets: A Marine's Story Part 2 (SLIDESHOW)Tim King Salem-News.com
A Marine combat vet who served in Iraq uses medical marijuana to deal with war-related PTSD, and is tossed into the grinder by the California court system.
(SALEM, Ore.) - In part one of this special three-part series report, we learned that Marine Corps Sergeant Phillip Northcutt of Long Beach, California, began his enlistment in the Marines in 1998 as the platoon "Honorman" or "Guide" - the one recruit selected from the platoon who works with the drill instructors to help the 100 or so young Marine Corps hopefuls actually become U.S. Marines.
After serving four years, Northcutt was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps. He returned to Southern California and attended college on the GI Bill.
Life was great until the Marines called him and told him he was needed to offset the tremendous numbers of casualties, and he agreed as long as this meant he would go to Iraq to actually help other Marines.
He ended up as a .50 caliber machine gunner in the turret of a Humvee at Ramadi, Camp Hurricane. On his last day of combat Northcutt was injured and evacuated from Iraq.
When Sgt. Phil Northcutt returned home from Iraq, his one-year non-extendable tour was extended over his battlefield injuries. The combat vet had PTSD and could barely walk. He says he just wanted to go home.
"I had promised my wife one year and no more. She had enough and decided the Marine Corps was my real wife and left me. After much debate, he was finally allowed to go home to Long Beach to await orders."
Because he was on active duty, Northcutt could not go to the VA for medical care even though it was only a mile from his house. Instead he had to get treatment at Camp Pendleton. Anyone who knows Southern California traffic also knows that the trip between Camp Pendleton and Long Beach is a long and slow journey.
Even worse, is Northcutt's claim that in spite of all the inconvenient traveling, he never got the treatment he needed.
"Every time I went for some help they gave me more pills. I was so medicated I couldn't drive myself to my appointments. My wife left me, so I was on my own. I ended up missing many appointments, which were giving me no relief and I began to drink heavily. I stayed in hotels so I could go right to the hotel bar when I woke up. This lasted for about 6 months."
During this time the PTSD overtook Northcutt, and soon he began racking up speeding tickets, he also crashed his car and motorcycle. That is about the time that Phil visited a new doctor.
Medical Marijuana is an answer for PTSD
California law (CA Health & Safety 11362.7) allows a patient to grow their own medicine. Northcutt began investigating different methods to grow medical cannabis. He says he intended to remain legal in all aspects, but in a state that doesn't respect, follow or even know its own laws, he joined a large number of peaceful, non-violent non-criminal people under fire by their own government for using a natural plant that the voters said was OK. Growing marijuana plants takes many months and he wanted to try one method that yields faster, but in very small comparative amounts.
"It had its up and downs, and I learned as I went," Northcutt said. "I learned a method called Sea-of-Green, which allows one to grow many small plants in a short period of time (100 days), as opposed to a few large plants over nearly a year. You yield less this way, but the cycles are shorter so I could grow enough medicine to sustain me permanently."
He says he learned that if you want to grow herbal medicine, you cannot use chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Wanting to maximize the healthy side since that is what it is all about, Northcutt says he began to grow organically, and other patients he had worked with before decided to grow with him and they started a cooperative.
Far from sinister, the cooperative is a common approach used by legal growers in the state of California. But soon after starting it, he was arrested.
"I was pulled over with less than an ounce divided into two jars. Less than an ounce in California is a misdemeanor citation. I openly told the officer I had the cannabis. I showed my medical cannabis cards from the Oakland Cannabis Cooperative and the Los Angeles Cannabis Buyers Cooperative. I am a member if several co-ops."
According to Northcutt, the officer stated that she thought medical marijuana patients were allowed "to have only one joint" or cigarette in their possession. In truth, with under an ounce he was in violation of no law at all and the matter should have ended right there, but instead he was the victim of a Long Beach Police officer's ignorance and lack of training.
"She had no idea what she was talking about. I asked for someone form Narcotics who might actually know the law as it pertains to medical marijuana. She told me she was going to pull me out of the car and search me." Even probable cause seems a hard to swallow concept when considering that Northcutt did everything to comply and was in violation of no laws.
Police should know the law
But overreaction is the mark of many police officers and deputy sheriffs in LA and Orange County, and there does often seem to be an anti-Marine Corps bias almost built into the law enforcement community there. I speak from the experience with many run-ins with police as a young Marine in Southern California in the 1980's. Perhaps some of the overreaction is understandable in such a hardened place for many of these cops, but it seems unlikely that it fits the bill here.
"I always carried an HK P7 9mm pistol. I was on the waiting list for my CCW permit. I informed her that I had a weapon and that I would keep my hands on the wheel where she could see them. She and her training officer just disappeared without a word."
He says he looked in the rear view mirror, and could see them hiding behind the police car's doors, crouching. They called for back-up and when it arrived, he remembers the Long Beach officers yelling, "He's military and he's got a gun."
The Marine was surrounded and arrested, in spite of his best effort at disclosing fact and being honest and forthright; qualities not just learned in the Corps, but driven into your soul.
The arrest led to a warrant being served on Phil Northcutt's residence. The police believed that he was growing marijuana that was packaged for sales... in two mason jars.
"I was staying at my grandmother's in the guest house. They found my lease and electrical bill for my business, a commercial space in the warehouse district. They also claimed to have found 5 ecstasy tablets. They issued a warrant for my business and found my medical garden."
The court case
The truth of the matter is that in this process, every 100 plants would yield about 2 pounds when using the Sea-of-Green technique. Phil Northcutt says the detectives did not even know what Sea-of-Green was, while the techniques can be found in ANY book on growing marijuana. They might after all, have learned that they were wrong, and that doesn't seem to be the spirit of the operation there.
"So here they were not even knowing the most common methodology used to grow medical cannabis stating that they were experts on the topic, and that that I was obviously selling it," he added.
An independent medical cannabis expert was brought in to testify and attempt to eliminate some of the ignorance, he said. They even attempted to use DEA guidelines to establish a scientifically based yield for the garden, but the judge would not allow it.
"There was no evidence whatsoever of me selling it. Not even baggies! They later testified that they had NEVER once seen marijuana SOLD in mason jars. The jury acquitted me of all sales charges, all ecstasy charges, all weapons charges."
In the end, they prosecuted this combat veteran for growing marijuana, which is legal in California. His status as a combat vet who laid everything he had on the line in service of his country meant nothing at all in the eyes of the LA County judge.
In case you missed part one you can read it here: How America Really Treats Combat Vets: A Marine's Story Part 1
Here are photos from Phil Northcutt's MySpace page that detail his time fighting in Iraq:
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